The Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire is appealing for help from funding bodies and members of the public to acquire an important Charlotte Brontë manuscript which is to be auctioned at Sothebys in London on Thursday 15 December.
The manuscript, previously untraced and unpublished, is expected to fetch between £200,000 - £300,000 and contains three works by the young Charlotte Brontë, produced in September 1830 when she was 14 years old. It is part of a series of manuscripts known as ‘The Young Men’s Magazines’ which were inspired by a box of toy soldiers bought for Branwell Brontë by his father in 1826.
The soldiers sparked a remarkable burst of creativity from the young Brontës who began creating stories which were handwritten into tiny books intended for the toy soldiers to ‘read’. Their minute scale and miniature details, such as title pages and advertisements, were modelled on a popular publication of the time, Blackwood’s Magazine. The Brontë Museum has the largest collection of these little manuscript books in the world and they are amongst the most popular exhibits with visitors and have also been the subject of much scholarly research in recent years.
The little books chart Charlotte Bronte’s development as a writer and reveal how many of her early themes carry over into her published novels. The first piece in the manuscript to be sold at Sotheby’s recounts how a murderer is driven to madness after being haunted by his victims, and how ‘an immense fire’ burning in his head causes his bed curtains to set alight, prefiguring the well-known scene in Charlotte’s novel, Jane Eyre, in which Rochester’s insane wife sets light to his bed curtains.
This manuscript is currently in a private collection and has never previously been published. It’s certainly the most significant Brontë manuscript to come to light in decades, but we should also see this as a national treasure with significance to our broader literary heritage. It would be very sad indeed if this wonderful manuscript were not repatriated or was again lost to a private collection. We feel very strongly that it belongs here in Haworth and we’re appealing for people to get in touch if they can help us raise the funds to make sure it does return, so that visitors can enjoy it, either here at the museum or through our on-line resources.
Director, Brontë Parsonage Museum
As an independent charity the museum is constantly trying to raise funds to support its work, a fundamental part of which is seeking to acquire such important Brontë material and making it accessible to the public.
It’s very difficult for us to compete in a market where these items can fetch such high prices and we need the support of organizations and individuals to make sure that they are returned to Haworth. If anyone feels they can make a financial contribution to help us, this would be very much appreciated